Archive | February, 2019

THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE

27 Feb

PIRATES OF Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan at Wilton’s Music Hall

A comedy Jewel in a perfect setting.
The Songs of Gilbert and Sullivan are so well known to most of us – of a certain age – who have had them thrust down our throats at school. The problem is that for many years, the operas were restricted to the Carl Rosa Opera Company and were not allowed to be changed in any way. The humour of the 1880s is not necessarily compatible with the minds of the 20th century. Luckily the copyright restrictions came to an end and from then on many musical theatre companies have performed versions of these delightful entertainments.

Sasha Regan the director had drawn on her youthful reminiscences of school productions. A boys school production had boys playing all roles including the females and she has created an evening of positive delights. We begin with songs of the pirates with Ruth the sole female member of the pirate troupe played by Allan Richardson in a skirt.  Ruth believes Frederic Tom Senior) will find her beautiful as he has never seen a woman before. But when the girls arrive – the daughters of the Very Modern Major General (David McKechnie) they are a plethora of beautiful boys in frocks singing soprano, then it is that the comedy and the romance really take off.

When I first heard about this production many years ago. I didn’t want to see it as I imagined a whole lot of drag artists, but there was nothing like that. These are boys in boys haircuts, in dresses doing their best to be coy little maids and it is very funny and altogether delightful.

As for the supremely natural characterisations, I was reminded of Steve Coogan in his character of Alan Partridge who could so easily be a character straight out of G and S.

But what is extra special is the setting in the old Music Hall that was built for this kind of entertainment.  I went along with a friend who has taken part in the opera before with another company and he was excited to see it at Wilton’s.”A jewel in a perfect setting” was his reaction. 

The performances are all huge fun, each of the pirates and each of the daughters is a star in his own right so I can only mention the main soloists. Frederic, of course, the unfortunate young man, released from pirate hood and ready to do his civic duty to prosecute the pirates, when he finds he is still apprenticed to them and he would have to hang himself. His love affair with the Major General’s daughter Mabel (Tom Bales) would be impossible as the great man couldn’t let his daughter marry a pirate – certainly not a hanged one.

Of course, along with some dotty policemen (whose lot, of course, is not a happy one) they find a way out of it and the General doesn’t have to hang his son in law.

Is that a spoiler?. I think not – we all know it mustn’t end in tears. It is a truly magical experience –  witty words,  joyous tunes, delightful performances and an exciting setting.  I am so glad I’ve seen it.

my dads gap year

19 Feb

MY DAD’S GAP YEAR
by Tom Wright
at the Park Theatre
Before I can begin to give my impressions of this play, I have to acknowledge the fact that on press night there were people who stood up at the end and cheered and there were several loud laughs during the performance from certain members of the audience . Quite a few others looked as puzzled as I was.
I looked at the newly printed book they kindly gave me and I could see that it was an actual play – it was published! But to me it seemed like the whole thing seemed improvised – not properly put together. I couldn’t believe in the characters, they didn’t seem real either as ordinary people or as actors in a play. Not a play at all, just a series of incidents with as much nudity,and LGBTQ+ as possible just slotted in. Political Correctness gone crazy. Alcoholism and drug addiction lead to early death. If you are gay, express it without fear. People are people, even if they have a different colour skin or if they are transvestites.
It was set on a series of platforms formed into a hollow white square. When we came in, there was a man (Adam Lannan) sitting in the middle of it, on the ground throwing cans at the audience. One of them hit the man sitting next to me. He was apparently playing a computer game and drinking alcohol. Turns out Dave is an alcoholic with a only a year to live and he is just passing his time away. He is chivved constantly by his estranged wife, Cath (Michelle Collins) and his eighteen year old intelligent but gay and repressed son William (Alex Britt).
The father makes a big decision to enjoy his own last year and bond with his son, hoping he will loosen up by passing a gap year in Thailand.
Dave picks up Mae a lovely young Thai girl (Victoria Gigante) – a transvestite of course – and they become intimate. William meets an attracive young man Matias (Max Percy) He is Thai but brought up in America so conveniently speaks good English and they also go into a special partnership. All the while, Michelle Collins is communicating by phone and skype, and walking round and round the platform in excessively high heels.
It was as if they wanted to get some nudity and virtual sex on the platform and had thrown in as much politically correct items as possible. The result – to me was as dull as most PC things are. It was only interesting that of the LGBT they missed out Lesbian – or maybe that was slipped in somewhere when I was wondering how long I was going to have to sit there. I thought it would never end.
Yet, as I say, there was a standing ovation from part of the audience so it must have theatrical merit.
It could be that I am too much of an old pro to understand something that is new and exciting and worthy of production. Important people had joined in with it, they obviously thought it was a good idea. I found it messy, confusing, clumsy. The people were unlikeable, unlovable and dull. Much less interesting than the many gay,lesbian, alcoholic, trans and foreign people in my own life.
Sorry guys. What more can I say? Go and see it, but don’t blame me if it pisses you off too.
.


a beautiful noise

19 Feb

A BEAUTIFUL NOISE
A TRIBUTE TO NEIL DIAMOND
BY FISHER STEVENS
at the Lyric cTheatre

This show is well named. Some wonderful music issuing from the Lyric Theatre stage.
Sadly, Neil Diamond, who wrote ‘A Beautiful Noise’ had to give up performing when he contracted Parkinson’s Distease. But here is Fisher Stevens to pay tribute to one of the best selling musicians of all time with 30 songs in the top ten. He has sold at least one hundred million records.
The story of his life is illustrated by a giant screen at the back of the stage. He was born in Brooklyn and one of the first illustrations is the Brill Building where he penned so many of his songs. He was at Erasmus High School, in the same class as Barbra Streisand, but they were not particularly good friends!
However they later worked together and he sang one of his most beautiful songs with her. ‘You don’t bring me Flowers’. Stevens pays tribute to this, singing it along with Samantha Palin, a duet which leaves the audience in tears – so beautiful and so poignant. Palin and Rebecca Cole are his girl backing singers, both lovely and talented, each having a chance to shine in their solo items. .
One of the most stunning items in the show is the tribute to all the great singers and songwriters of recent years – including Bowie, Presley, Prince, George Michael. Their faces are splashed across the screen one by one to the accompaniment of ‘He’s my Brother’ making each one more moving than the one before.
Stevens is a rare breed, somone who can sing Diamond’s song as he did them without making an obvious impersonation. It is lucky that he also looks the part in his many sequined costumes. He begins casually in leather trousers and yellow shirt as he sings country style , but soon graduates into black and sequins.
He has some really terrific musicians backing him. They are a glamorous bunch in white shirts and seqins and lit by different coloured spotlights throughout. Incredibly versatile, switching without any visible effort from Guitars to Brass, and even a piano accordian. Gerry Power, Steve Green and Glen Johnson and John Moakes on a mean trumpet. Nichola Pope Mathews with Baritone Clarinet is the only female member and I was a little sad that she didn’t have the same uniform as the guys, but just wears a short tunic and high heels to show her legs. Hmm!
So many songs, Desiree, Sweet Caroline, Love on the Rocks, Do I love you, Girl you’ll be a woman, Forever in Blue Jeans.The audience happily join in with the Monkey’s song ‘I’m a believer’ and of course ‘Song Sung Blues’ and ‘Play me’. It is a delight to look up into the Gods and see the people all grooving up there. Singing along and dancing. This is music everyone can relate to.
The show is going on tour and will be back in London in June and July.
The evning could be sad, missing the great man, but Stevens is a terrific entertainer and makes it one of the most joyful evenings evenings on Shaftesbury Avenue.

MY DAD’S GAP YEAR

19 Feb

MY DAD’S GAP YEAR
by Tom Wright
at the Park Theatre
Before I can begin to give my impressions of this play, I have to acknowledge the fact that on press night there were people who stood up at the end and cheered and there were several loud laughs during the performance from certain members of the audience . Quite a few others looked as puzzled as I was.
I looked at the newly printed book they kindly gave me and I could see that it was an actual play – it was published! But to me it seemed like the whole thing seemed improvised – not properly put together. I couldn’t believe in the characters, they didn’t seem real either as ordinary people or as actors in a play. Not a play at all, just a series of incidents with as much nudity,and LGBTQ+ as possible just slotted in. Political Correctness gone crazy. Alcoholism and drug addiction lead to early death. If you are gay, express it without fear. People are people, even if they have a different colour skin or if they are transvestites.
It was set on a series of platforms formed into a hollow white square. When we came in, there was a man (Adam Lannan) sitting in the middle of it, on the ground throwing cans at the audience. One of them hit the man sitting next to me. He was apparently playing a computer game and drinking alcohol. Turns out Dave is an alcoholic with a only a year to live and he is just passing his time away. He is chivved constantly by his estranged wife, Cath (Michelle Collins) and his eighteen year old intelligent but gay and repressed son William (Alex Britt).
The father makes a big decision to enjoy his own last year and bond with his son, hoping he will loosen up by passing a gap year in Thailand.
Dave picks up Mae a lovely young Thai girl (Victoria Gigante) – a transvestite of course – and they become intimate. William meets an attracive young man Matias (Max Percy) He is Thai but brought up in America so conveniently speaks good English and they also go into a special partnership. All the while, Michelle Collins is communicating by phone and skype, and walking round and round the platform in excessively high heels.
It was as if they wanted to get some nudity and virtual sex on the platform and had thrown in as much politically correct items as possible. The result – to me was as dull as most PC things are. It was only interesting that of the LGBT they missed out Lesbian – or maybe that was slipped in somewhere when I was wondering how long I was going to have to sit there. I thought it would never end.
Yet, as I say, there was a standing ovation from part of the audience so it must have theatrical merit.
It could be that I am too much of an old pro to understand something that is new and exciting and worthy of production. Important people had joined in with it, they obviously thought it was a good idea. I found it messy, confusing, clumsy. The people were unlikeable, unlovable and dull. Much less interesting than the many gay,lesbian, alcoholic, trans and foreign people in my own life.
Sorry guys. What more can I say? Go and see it, but don’t blame me if it pisses you off too.
.

can-can

19 Feb

CAN-CAN
The new Offenbach musical
music by Offenbach and some of his conemporaries
arranged by Richard Baker
Loosely based ona plot by Pinero
Adapted, with Lyrics by Phil Willmott
at the Union Theatre

La Belle Epoque – probably one of the most exciting eras running f rom the mid 18 seventies ulntil the first world War. The time of Art Nouveau, Alfonse Muchas and Toulouse Lautrec. Of Folies Bergere and MOulin Rouge. Matisse, Rousseau, and the innovative poems of Rimbaud.
The Eiffel Tower, the demi monde, Mistinguette, La Goulue, Yvette Guilbert singer of rude songs and the heroine of Phil Wilmott’s musical Jane Avril dancer.
This is not the show by Cole Porter in the fifties nor the film starring Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. The story is vaguely based on the work of Arthur Wing Pinero, and is about Show Business versus the World of finance
Wilmott himself plays Monsieur Bontoux, a rich banker with a handsome son Damjan Mrackovich who has his sights on Show Biz.. mainly because of his passion for Jane Avril (Kathy Peacock)- a famous dancer of the Can-can and the muse of the Toulouse Lautrec, who makes an appearance played by Jordan Nesbitt.
The show opens with a highly energetic Can-Can which seems to promise much for the rest of the show. Sadly the energy fizzles out after the dancers have left the stage and play other roles , like maids and dressers. Avril sings prettily .- a song about theatre life to the tune of the Merry Widow Waltz by Franz Lehar. Wilmott also uses music by Strauss. There were so many other wonderful composers of the time Debussy, Boulanger, Massenet, Saint Saens, Ravel so I thought sometimes he was a little unadventurous with his choices. ‘After the Ball’ and ‘Bird in a Gilded Cage’ – a little obvious and not at all sure about Tico Tico.The story is not an exciting one, one can only appreciate he delightful costumes and the wonderful ingenious movable pros Arch,
The second Act was infintely more fun than the first with a few Music Hall turns. La Goulue does Monckton’s Moonstruck with four boy dancers and Yvette Guilbert (Emily Barnett-Salter) sings a traditional rude music hall song called Tiddly Pom – (not the famous Tiddly om Pom sung by Marie Lloyd ) Then we have a spesh act which amused others in the audience rather than me.
There is a totally magic finale which is what will sell this show. It is the famous Can-Can from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.
This is a Dancer’s show and I suppose that is inevitable with this title.
But there is too long a gap betrween he opening and the finale. some of the singing is not all that hot and the dialogue needs a bit of a kick up the proverbial. It is a show that doesn’t seem to know what it is supposed to be doing.
However I am convinced that eventually it will find its feet. I hope for its future. It’s a good idea – needs a better plot.

JAMES BIDDLECOMBE AT THE CRAZY COQS 13TH FEB

19 Feb

JAMES BIDDLECOMBE AT THE CRAZY COQS
WITH CHRIS MARSHALL PIANO AND VOCALS
13 February, eve of Valentines
Biddlecombe has done it again. Every time I see Mr Biddlecombe I think that he could never better what he does – and yet he seems to manage it.
He and Chris Marshall receive a rousing reception at the Crazy Coqs – a venue that fits them like a glove.
He begins by mocking his old age. A song to show there is yet hope for the future. Leiber and Stoller wrote ‘Ready to Begin Again’ and this song gets Bids off to a great start.
He complains bitterly that he’s never been cast in ‘Cats’ a witty number penned by himself and Marshall . This is one of their old favourites. But after this, the jokes are over for a while as he goes into ballad mood with a song from his youth, showing off his exquisite vocal skills in ‘My heart tells me’.
This show, like all his others gives us a broad experience of all his incredible talents, vocal and comedy and most of all his love of people and life. Chris Marshall slogging away at the piano and producing harmonies, comes over as a breath of reality, yet we are all aware that he’s just as daft as his friend.
But Parody is the soul of wit and one of their other numbers which gets the audiencer falling about with hilarity is ‘Maureen’ a take on Dolly Parton’s Joleen, in which he uses a hilghly exaggerated Southern accent.
After about eighteen numbers and one change of sequins, he arrives at his final item, the one I’ve been waiting for as he wanders into the audience, inviting individual members to ‘Peel me A Grape’ . (He actually meets up with a girl that he remarks ‘has even more diamante than me’)
Of course the audience doesn’t let him go so easily and he gives us one more Biddlecombe/ Marshall song about our technological life. ‘The Broadband Bossa Nova’
This is the Monarch of entertainers. A large bejewelled and bearded grown up with the vulnerability and impishness of a wicked child.
You’ve got to love Biddie. He is a human Valentine that lasts a lifetime.

carmen

19 Feb

BIZET’S CARMEN
at the King’s Head
by Mary Franklin and Ashley Pearson

The music of Bizets Carmen must be the most well known music on the planet – and here it is, in different guise, at the Kings Head. Just a piano pla yer and a whole new libretto, in English, beginning in an NHS hospital with Carmen as a cleaner and Jose as a male nurse.
Roger Paterson as Jose is a beleaguered married man. He is unhappy and bored in his work as he sings ‘Everyone just passes through. How did I end up here.’ His wife keeps calling him on his mobile phone, his mother is ill Just anothe sick person in his life. The Doctors keep on calling him to do things for them, but eventually, he gets some time off.
Eventually he gets time off to go into the Smoking Room. Offstage chorus of smokers, there is masses of smoke curling around both sides of the stage..
Carmen (Ellie Edmonds) comes in carrying something. a white parcel, which she tries to conceal. She tells Jose she has disposed of her boyfriend.. She sings about just wanting a happy life with fun and excitement and flirts with Jose.
There is an alarm Attention, red alert. Drugs have been stolen. Jose suspects Carmen he finds the drugs on her, he takes them from her and allow her to escape He is caught with the drugs on him.
When he is allowed out on bail, he seeks out Carmen, but has already found a new beau – the football hero Escamillo (Dan D’Souza)
The opera is playout with only three characters and a piano. Some of the music is on recordings that are played into the story.
There is a lot of comedy played into the story, Mary Franklin has done so many comey prioductions like The Diaryof a Nobody and The Young Visitors. Comedy is definitely her thing and she can find jokes – for example like the way they bring ‘Toreador’ into the story.
It is an ingenious version of the story and fits the music perfectly.
The sets are simple – by Anna Lewis – with the last act using a gauze to show the action during the playing of the football match on sound.
Juliane Gallant plays the piano throughout – not an easy task, as the whole thing is performed by just the three major performers and there is not a moment to relax during the show.
The singing of course is stunning, but one cannot be sure of getting the same singers who are superb as Carmen and Jose. The roles are shared with a second cast.
Enjoyable and funny without taking away from the original music and the story.

bad girls

19 Feb

BAD GIRLS ****
by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus
Music and LYrics byKath Gotts
Orchestrator Martin KOch
UPSTAIRS AT THE GATEHOUSE

Do not expect this musical to be full of happiness and joy. Well it’s certainly there but not all the time. It is about the poor girls who have broken the law and found themselves banged up. As they sing ‘Banged up without a bang’
They are a rich mix, prostitutes, murderers, shoplifters, addicts.
All of them believe they are innocent and don’t think they belong in jail. ‘I shouldn’t be here ‘ and ‘Give me back my life’
At the top of the show, little Rachael is the new arrival, she is taking off her clothes to be examined by the warder Sylvia ‘Bodybag’, played without a vestige of sympathy by Carol Sharp. Rachael is the new girl, she is vulnerable , worried about the baby she has left behind, and badly treated by the top girl on the wing, Shell, wonderfully played throughout by Nicole Faraday along with her sidekick Denny (Jade Marvin.) They bully her unmercifully calling themselves her Guardian Angels.
It is a relief to her when she meets the Chief officer JIm Fenner, who tells her he will take care of her and make sure she will see her baby. She does not realise that he has all the girls under his control, even Shell, and can get what he likes out of them by his promises.
He is unlike Helen Stewart (Bella Bowen) who is the Prison Governor and she believes that prison is for rehabilitation – but the rest of the staff o seem to enjoy giving the girls a bad time. She has a special friend Niki – a lifer who has returned to the wing. She and Rebecca Eastham (who also directs) play their relationship with admirable restraint and dignity.
There are some terrific performances and great songs. Alex-May Roberts plays Crystal Gordon , an evangelist who sings gospel music like an angel. Her song ‘Freedom Road’ is for me the Highlight of the show.
The show is an offshoot of he TV series and one might find it a strange suject for a musical, but it works, even though there are so many vile people and horrible happenings. Nicole Faraday is quite extraordinary in that, despie her evil character, manages to retain our sympathy. Big busty and eminently likeable even when catering to the desires of Jim Fenner.
Alexander Fosteras the wicked Fenner has a very pleasant and well projected singing voice which makes him very believable to the poor sad Rachael.
Another of the stand out personalities with a big number (A- list) which she sings along with the other prisoners is Yvonne. She knows exactly how to cope with the siuation, being the wife of a famous gangster and has a lush outside life.
Andrew Eeter has produced ingenious prison bars that are able to move easily along with the characters. He also handles the lighting. The musical director is Ben David Papworth who has produced some good harmonies for the girls though occasionally I find the music a little loud drowning out some of the sense of the lyrics. The high sopranos have a worse time than the others.
A lot of successful hard work has been given to this musical. One can tell that the cast and creatives feel that this is a special show for them and they are having a ball, working on it. .
So despite the grim subject, it is a very entertaining evening.

FUNNY TURNS

1 Feb

FUNNY TURNS
by David Hampshire
at the Museum of Comedy.
A DELIGHTFUL BUT HEARTBREAKINGLY FUNNY PLAY set in a 1935 theatrical boarding house with so many characters that seem to be so familiar to a mainly show biz audience. Yes we’ve all met them, every one of them. It is good to introduce them to the world, to the jagged instability of life in the theatre.
It is written by somebody who knows them all so well. David was an Ialia Conti Child who won early fame as the title role in the TV series ‘Jennings’ and did his stint as a member of the BBC rep. On stage he was Jean Valjean in Les Mis and has spent many years touring and meeting up with all the amazing personalities of show biz. He dedicates this play to them – to Eric and Ernie, to Ken Dodd, to Brucie and Sandy Powell, but mainly to Roy Barraclough with whom he shared digs and who told him stories about the weird and wonderful people in this profession. Most of the stories too rude to include.
The actors chosen to play are perfectly cast – from the evil Charlie Prince played by Lewis Rae – a song and dance man adored by all those who cannot see his villainy, Kenneth Michaels as Norman Tate, a sad out of work comic who needs the companion of drink to take care of him while working , a divinely outrageous magician Mansel David, Nellie Price (Crissy Mullen) a nymphomaniac plate juggler, Martin Wimbush plays the distinguished Impresario Harold Chance, and looking after them all is the wondrous Joan Blackham as the landlady and her daughter Sally – a positive genius with a Victoria Sponge – played by the very pretty Georgia Riley. The whole audience – and I – fell deeply in love with David Forest as an elderly pianist who is only occasionally allowed to play his top of the pops number. ‘Don’t send my Wanda to Wandsworth’ “it has twelve verses” he proudly declaims. This is a prize winning performance – one of those raw gems that somebody – in this case David Hampshire – thought up as a diversion from the ancient humour and dramatic scenes his dignified personality was a change from all the outrageous Personality performers
The role of the only ‘straight’ actor in the piece is Hampshire himself who plays his role as movie actor and Sakespearean thesbian Laurence Mason with elegance and some pathos. But of course the evening belongs to Jane Blackham and Kenneth Michaels. who play Alice and Norman. Norman has the most wonderful collection of old jokes – probably brand new in the nineteen thirties. We see all the characters through Alice’s loving eyes.
Anyone who has ever been in ‘digs’ will recognise them. As a straight actor, he would not nornmally be in digs with the ‘variety’ people. I remember the stern segregation in the old days. Variety and Legitimates were never allowed to mix.
Times have changed so much. Television has made stars out of middle range Variety performers. Nowadays the rooms which used to be dedicated to Legits are now reserved for the TV stars..
This is a play that should be shown to the outside world – it is so indicative of how the theatre folk live and pursue their wobbly lives. I once had a landlady that stopped breakfast at eight am and switched off all the heat at ten thirty in the evening. It didn’t occur to her that we lived a completely different time scale from her usual business clients.
This play is a hilarious but important piece of literature , well observed and essential for the understanding of the audience..
“The Butcher, the Baker, The grocer and the Clark are secretly unhappy men becauseā€¦.(they) get paid for what they do but no applause”. Applause is what peformers live for. There is no business like it.

A SMALL HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

1 Feb

A SMALL HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD ****
by Chris Lee
This is my second experience of this strange play. It still has an incredibly emotional impact, I think even more so than when I saw it last year at the Tabard.
I get the impression it has been speeded up a little which does not interfere with the incredible potency of the piece – and in fact has a strengthening effect as does the fact that it is played in a very intimate almost claustrophobic atmosphere of the tiny Museum of Comedy Theatre.
The design, by Ken McClymont has a set with everything plastered with newspapers -a table and chairs covered in newsprint. Even the beer bottles they drink from have this symbol of the passage of time..
The action takes place in a single location and it involves the entire emotional relationship of a two people throughout their lives, from their falling in love, their marriage the way they hate and love each other , when they drift apart, and nevertheless, wherever they are alive or dead, they have an inescapable bond.
They meet at their old age and the whole play is devoted to their remembrances and acting out of their past love, their parenthood, the loss of faith. The play slips backwards and forwards in time. Their old age, still loving and fighting and their excitable youth deciding on the paint colour for the house are running almost concurrently. He loves the house, longs for a boat, she finds it ridiculous. Their acting is sublime, without the help of costumes except for a shawl worn by Pradelsca when she is the old person.
The scenes are acting out quite wonderfullyby Alan Turkington West End, film and TV actor and Laura Pradelsca best known for her Quaithe in Game of Thrones.
When it was shown at the Tabard, it was described as having shades of ‘Who’sAfraid of Virginia Woolf’ but it is much more enigmatic and poignant.
Set in a single location and with just the two protagonists, in many short scenes each desplaying an important moment in their lives, we are forced to concentrate on their ever changing emotions. We really get to know these people and care about them as they reveal their own affectionate and their own violent feelings. They have to cope with abandonment, betrayal, death and facts of life, pleasant and unpleasand.
The play is directed with enormous passion and empathy by Ken McClymont who as a painter, creates some beautiful scenes in this tiny environment with the help of some delicious lighting by Luke M Francisā€¦